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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Follow the Leader? Container-Contained Processes and the Exercise of Leadership and Followership in Groups and Institutions

In this well-known old song, an English canon composed by John Hilton in 1652, we are encouraged to follow an invisible leader. But before we decide to do so, we ask him 'whither shall I follow? Whither shall I follow thee?' The answer sounds tempting: 'to the greenwood tree' So, off we go! ...Or perhaps not? What this ancient song text has to do with my subject will become plain to you at the end of my talk. But first, I would like to concentrate on the dynamics of 'leadership' and 'followership' and on t what I am calling heir corrupt derivatives 'seduction' and ' persecution'. The reason I have placed these two words 'seduction' and 'persecution' in opposition to leadership and followership has its linguistic foundations in the German language. So, let me give you a brief but necessary lesson in German before we go on. The German word for 'leader', as you will recognise from your familiarity with Hitler, is 'Fuehrer'. Leadership then is 'Fuehrung'. The verb 'to follow' is folgen; and followership Folgschaft. But by simply adding the little prefix 'ver', fuehren becomes verfuehren and folgen turns into verfolgen. Now the thing about that is, that verfuehren means 'to seduce' and verfolgen 'to pursue'. Thus the title in German reads: Follow the Leader? (Ver)fuehren und (Ver)folgen als Faktoren des Container-Contained Prozesses in Gruppen und Institutionen, or Leadership/Seduction and Followership/Persecution as Factors in the Container-Contained Process in Groups and InstitutionsIn order to explore this dynamic, I shall call to mind the most important elements of Bions Container-Contained model, as well as relevant aspects of his theories on group dynamics, especially those dealing with leadership and followership, and shall illustrate this with two examples from current politics in the USA and in Austria.'